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On Empathy, Sympathy and our Pets

In these days of the news of so much brutality in many places in the world, of domestic violence, military massacres or social collapse in far away places or here in our own backyard, it may appear self-indulgent and facile to shed a tear or two for the loss of a domestic pet when we can but turn our gaze away from the hurt of humanity. An indulgence of sympathy some would say.

But there is the thing about a knowledge of love and affection. I believe we as humans are born with the innocence of love already in our self, while affection is a thing that can grow in our hearts … There is the interpretation that affection can be a stepping stone toward love … which is true, I’d say, but love is not a learned thing but a indelible emotion of the human spirit … to be capable of love is to be human.

The same with empathy and sympathy … With all those suffering peoples we see every day on the news, there is both empathy and sympathy … I would say that the combination of those emotions as between the separation of those emotions is the major difference between the Right and the Left persuasions of societies:

“To sum up the differences between the most commonly used meanings of these two terms: sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another.”

I recently finished a project I have been working on in fits and starts for many a year … the result gives little evidence of that time … and perhaps the quality of the finished product may be viewed as a wasted effort on my part! … But it had to be written … and some of you have read it to which I am very grateful … after all, it was directed to be read.

It is the story of the Italians interned in the 2nd World War to cut and burn mallee here near the Murray River … and the “play” … which I called a “reading opera” … ”A Ukulele Opera” describes a microcosm of their situation in those camps … The “opera” starts and finishes with a character named “Gemano” who is lamenting for his fiancé who he left behind in Italy when he came to Australia (with my father) to start a new life and then to go back and marry the lady and bring her to Oz to start a family … It was a true event … But the war broke out and he heard nothing of her … whether she be alive or, like so many millions more … dead … what were the odds? … Yet he held out with a belief and conviction that she lives … for five years! … five years of despair and internment … and then came the letter of joy …

In these days of “instant gratification”, how many can hold onto a desire or a commitment a person to love or hold affection with for more than a “clickbait” moment? … We seem to live in a time more of “want” than desire …

Which brings us to the love of our pets and the loss felt at their parting. With the death of a pet, in most cases we are there at the dying, we touch the body and witness the fading life and say a gentle goodbye with the stroke of the fur … or a gentle twist of the pet’s ear or some other favourite touch or word … I would think, in that moment of death, we are more in sympathy to that loss of mute, innocent love with the parting than with the empathy of the loved one. But once we are parted from that unconditional continuity of mutual company and aware of that loss of mutual confederacy between two close companions … I believe we then feel the sympathy of camaraderie so much that the weld of empathy to sympathy can become seamless, a stepping stone from affection to love is complete and that knowledge learned through the companionship of our love toward a pet takes over as instinctive behaviour into our adult relationships between fellow citizens, is what guides decent and civilized attitudes toward our fellow humans no matter what their circumstances. And it is fairly said that one can judge a person by their treatment of their pets or animals. It is a pity our leadership cannot seem to travel far enough down this route to become civilized barbarians!

It has to be fair to ask: Where would we be without our precious pets?

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  1. Joseph Carli

    I wrote this in memory of my cat that died of a snakebite..

    A Balloon.

    A bright blue balloon
    Am I,
    As blue as blue as an azure sky.
    Catched for a moment
    By an Hibiscus flower.
    Wind buffeted,
    Held for an hour
    Of fragile kind-ship,
    We were.


    The delicate thread broke free..
    Now, can you see me anymore
    As I drift away
    Shape and colour
    Lost against a vast array
    Of blue as blue as an azure sky.
    My bright blue balloon
    And I..
    She is gone…
    Goodbye my sweet..goodbye..

  2. Anne Byam

    Beautifully written Joseph. Had me in tears in fact. I remember my now passed pets with such fondness, and love so often. It is heartbreaking to say the least when they leave.

    To that end, I wrote a poem back in 2011 when I lost my precious Gracie. A beautiful red coated Golden Retriever. The writing helped me cope, as I was truly devastated. She was my last but one Golden – we now have Miss Ruby – also a red coat.

    Anyway – here’s my poem to her memory :

    “ GRACIE “

    My beautiful girl, her coat of red
    with golden highlights through it thread
    her big bright eyes, and happy smile
    no longer asks to play awhile.
    ….. She has left me.

    Ever watchful, faithful friend
    On whom I always could depend,
    for loving company always there
    to cuddle up, a hug to share
    ……. and now – she’s gone.

    I talk to her from time to time
    beside her garden when sun does shine
    on the glorious flowery display
    that marks where Gracie went away
    …… and left us.

    Yes I shed tears, maybe lessening now,
    replaced by memories of just how
    my wonderful dog was everywhere
    that I can look, and she’s still there
    ….. In spirit.

    Knowing that she is at rest
    no hint of pain, no fear filled test
    for her to go through any more,
    brings peace and solace to the fore
    …… Despite my tears.

    And so my precious Gracie girl,
    as weeks, and months and years unfurl,
    you will be with me every day
    and everywhere – but I have to say,
    ….. I had no choice – I had to let you go.

    To join our other dearest pets,
    Sweet wee souls – each one the best
    because they gave so much to me,
    more than I could ever see.
    ………. Until it was too late.

    To everyone who have lost a pet
    as I have before – so many, yet
    nothing removes them from the heart
    In our lives they remain the part
    ……. Of Happy Memories.

    © Anne N. Byam – 2011

  3. Joseph Carli

    A lovely testament, Anne…so honest, so true, so precious…our latest “recycled feral” tabby cat is snuggled on my lap as I type this…she is georgous…a purring princess!..Thank you.

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